“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:1-5 HCSB)
Do you possess skills and abilities that make you excel at certain things? Are there things that you just do well? Things that don’t require much effort but just seem to come naturally? Maybe it is some athletic skill, like throwing a ball or dart. Maybe it is an academic ability, like reading, writing or math. Maybe it is a social skill, like engaging conversation or listening. It’s not something you have intentionally sought to learn or develop but it just comes naturally. I suspect we all possess at least one ability or skill that just seems to be more natural and comes easier for us. We just seem to “get it” better than some other things we attempt or try. No special classes or acquired knowledge, just natural ability.
What about something you’d like to be able to do, but you just don’t get it? Is there something you can’t do well, even though you try, so forget about mastering it? I have a few of those, too. Some things I don’t do well simply because I’m impatient and try to rush the process. Like when the instructions say, “let item cure for 24 hours before using” and I try and use it after just 6 hours and it breaks, again. That’s not lack of knowledge or understanding, that’s just stupidity and stubbornness. I read the instructions and then devise a shortcut. It NEVER works and you’d think I’d learn. I want to be successful. I want it to work. I really desire for it to work, but desire does not equate to knowledge and skill. You can be zealous and passionate about something but zeal and passion alone don’t result in success.
Nike tells us, “Just do it!” Wheaties taunts us, “The breakfast of champions.” Adidas challenges us, “Impossible is nothing.” Disneyland beckons to us, “The happiest place on earth.” Gatorade asks us, “Is it in you?” Burger King lures us, “Have it your way!” Reebok encourages us, “I am what I am.”
Paul introduces us to this idea spiritually in this way, “they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Now, Paul’s reference is for his kinsmen, his brothers (and sisters) – the Israelites – and he speaks from experience. Paul readily admits his own zeal without knowledge that characterized his life and pursuit of God:
“…although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.” (Philippians 3:4-7 HCSB)
You can have a deep, deep passion for God and still be completely wrong in how that passion is expressed. You can strive to love God passionately, but without success. You can seek to worship God, yet fail miserably at it. You see, man has a natural need and desire to worship. It is an innate need that originates deep within our own souls. Even in cultures that purport atheism as their central belief, worship is vital to their existence. In fact, our western naturalistic culture that defies the very existence of God and often laughs at the idea, created these corporate slogans that are cited above. Look closely and you notice that they truly reflect a culture of worship – self-worship, self-achievement, personal happiness in the form of worship. Simply put, our world has a zealousness for God but completely without knowledge.
But how? How can you miss something so big, like God, when you are trying so hard to find it? How can your passion lead you so far astray? Pauls tells us, “because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own…” Their biggest blind spot was their own righteousness or, really, their lack of it. They had been given the law of God through Moses and then the Tabernacle and sacrificial worship. What they failed to grasp was that the Tabernacle and its sacrificial worship spotlighted their failure to truly observe the law and demonstrated God’s mercy and grace through faith. If they had really been able to observe and obey God’s law then the sacrifices for their sin would have been unnecessary. They could have established a relationship with God based on their own obedience and personal righteousness, but they failed to be obedient.
Now, back to us… The central idea coming out of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was man’s ability to reason, know, understand, control, form and transform the world around him. If we can understand how things work, then we can fix the brokenness of our existence and usher in a new and better world. In other words, through our own knowledge, skill and power to master and control the world around us we could achieve what generations before us had failed to achieve. In fact, we could do what even the “so-called Christian God” had been unable to achieve, paradise on earth. For some, that meant that man could achieve a level of personal righteousness that would guarantee good standing before God – self righteousness. For others, it ignored God and said that we are as good as or better than any God figure your mind can generate – self holiness.
So, it really comes down to the last part of Paul’s phrase, “they have not submitted themselves to God’s righteousness.” The Jews would promote their own self-righteousness and would not submit themselves to God’s righteousness. What’s fascinating to me is that our culture has stumbled onto this truth but, again, not according to knowledge. In other words, they’ve discovered that the root issue of the world’s problem is “power” or “authority” but they’re misunderstanding where power and authority really lies – in God.
If you took all of the primary issues facing our nation and our culture today and boiled them down to their essence, you’d discover that power/authority is all that’s left. The issue is not what, but who. The problem is not what we need to fix it but who wields it. One group believes their ideas and programs are the answer and if they can wrestle power away from the others, then they can fix the mess. Another group believes the same thing about their own ideas and programs and are actively trying to get or keep whatever power they might have or wield in order to fix the mess. Back and forth, back and forth. This one blaming that one and vice versa. Zeal but not according to knowledge. It’s true in life and, unfortunately, it’s often true in the church.
So, that brings us down to Paul’s conclusion in our focal passage. What is God’s righteousness? He tells us, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Christ is the end, the goal or culmination of the law for righteousness. Jesus put it this way, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17 HCSB) The law hasn’t been destroyed, it has been completed. Fulfilled. It has reached its intended goal – the righteousness of Christ.
But how does this tie back into our previous discussion about zeal or passion without knowledge? We become passionate about things or ideas and ideals but we often lack God’s knowledge and wisdom regarding the issues. As I mentioned, our culture believes that if the right group has power to act on their ideals then it would fix our problems. But we’re part of the problem. The group that desires power to fix the issue is part of the problem. We assume our personal righteousness is good, just and right so if I held power (or the group I’m espousing or tied to holds power) then I (or we) could fix the issues. Therein lies the problem and the truth. Our righteousness can never achieve our ultimate goal of making this world and our lives completely right, only Christ’s righteousness can do that and it’s for “everyone who believes.”
So, let me summarize and conclude… Paul desires that his kinsmen find salvation and I desire the same for mine. I know many who have great passion to make a significant difference in this world. They desire to see the struggles that plague our culture resolved so that we can all live in prosperity and peace, me too. They want an end to racism and they desire true equality for all men and women and I echo those desires. They seek an end to poverty and hunger and the opportunity for all to become the best they can be, I seek the same thing. I even know many who have a deep desire to know God and to experience His love, I truly pray they find it. However, zeal and passion without knowledge that embraces a complete disregard for God’s established righteousness, in Christ, is doomed to failure, regardless of which group of men or women wield the power and influence.
Can we make small inroads and resolve some minor issues? Sure. We’ve seen some of that over this past year as we faced a global pandemic and we all raced to find effective treatments, curtailment methods and vaccinations. But the danger still looms out there with the next crisis, the next pandemic, the next social injustice or cultural misstep. Our personal attempts at righteousness and social reform won’t resolve the core issue – our rejection of God’s righteousness in Christ. The issue is not which group holds the world’s power at the moment, but the fact that we’ve rejected God’s power and authority over our lives and over our attempts at personal righteousness. God has shown us, unequivocally, that our personal righteousness is doomed to failure. History bears out that fact and the morning news gives us a daily reminder, lest we forget.
So, what is God’s answer? Trusting in God’s righteousness in Christ. Oh, the Jesus thing. Great. That’s really helped, hasn’t it? When men and women trust Christ and submit themselves to His authority, to His power and seek to obey and follow Him then things do change. People change. Are there people who espouse the name of Christ but fail to live in obedience to His commands? Absolutely. But that doesn’t negate Paul’s point, it illustrates it. They are zealous but not according to knowledge. So, let your passion be knowledgeable, informed, educated, guided by the wisdom of God. Let your passion be empowered, not for personal gain or advantage but for obedience in faith. Let your zeal and love for God drive you to seek justice, mercy and faith. Social justice isn’t wrong, it is just shortsighted without the Gospel. It’s zeal but not according to knowledge. It is zeal without true knowledge, God’s knowledge.